Planning the Transcontinental Railroad

The Connecticut Historical Society has just completed a major map project, Maps and Charts: Finding Your Place in Connecticut History, with funding from Connecticut Humanities and the William and Alice Mortensen Foundation. Eight hundred maps from the CHS collection may now be viewed in the CHS online catalog. This 1853 map showing proposed routes for a transcontinental railroad is one of my favorites. It was drawn by Edwin F. Johnson, a civil engineer from Middletown, Connecticut, and printed by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg in Hartford. Johnson was born in Vermont in 1803 and served as surveyor general of Vermont, before moving to Middletown, where he established the first department of civil engineering in the country at the Military College that was the precursor to Wesleyan University. Johnson was not just a teacher, however; he was a practical engineer who worked on many early New England railroads, including the New York & Boston Air Line Railroad. As early as 1840, he was advocating a railroad to the West, crossing the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. In 1853, he published a pamphlet recommending the route later developed by the Northern Pacific Railroad, of which he eventually became chief engineer. This map accompanied the pamphlet and illustrated the proposed route. The first continental railroad, the Union Pacific, was completed in 1869. The Northern Pacific was still under construction when Johnson died in 18722012_312_202

A Painting…and a Loaf of Bread?

I’ve always had a lifelong interest in things that move; on land, on water, and in the air. My early career in history museums took me to the maritime field, and frankly I’ve never relinquished my fascination with all things afloat. Along the way I was introduced to fascinating characters: sailors and their wives, shipbuilders, whalemen—and artists. And as it turns out one such artist has “followed’ me to each institution where I have worked, including CHS. Continue reading

One Man’s Love Affair With Trains

I suppose we have all wished that we could have met a particular person while they were alive; you know, someone who shared an interest or a passion with us. For me, Richard Welling was one of those people. Welling, who died in 2009, is perhaps best known for his striking pen and ink drawings of the Hartford skyline, or some of his spectacular New York cityscapes in which the twin towers frequently stand out in a way he could never have imagined when he drew them decades ago. Continue reading

Transportation and the Imagination

Morgan Bulkeley Brainard (1879-1957) was a prominent Hartford resident. The Bulkeley and Brainard families have been established in the area for generations. A successful businessman, Brainard was President of the Aetna Life Insurance Company, a company founded by his grandfather,  Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, for over 40 years. During that time, Brainard also served a term as President of the Connecticut Historical Society. Over the years we have acquired several collections of papers (search our online catalog) and objects (search eMuseum) from Brainard.

In the collection I worked with this week, I found a few interesting transportation-related items. Hartford’s train station is located on Asylum Avenue, in sight of the Capitol Building. I will admit to not having studied much about the station, but do know the current building is not the original.

Hartford roundhouse

Roundhouse letterhead, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Nor is the current building the one shown in the above letterhead. If it is shown to scale, the building would have been enormous. The Capitol is an imposing structure and in the picture it is dwarfed by the station.

For those who like old maps, Brainard’s papers contain a 1946 Connecticut road map.

CT highways

Connecticut Highways 1946, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The highways shown have mostly stayed in place in the past 65 years. Driving them has certainly changed, and with the advent of the interstate system, most people would no longer consider many of them highways.  I showed  a photo of the map to a friend who is a historic preservationist. He remarked, “Ah, the good old days.” My friend was commenting on the well-documented troubles the City of Hartford has faced since the construction of I-84.

CT highways, 1946

Connecticut Highways 1946, Morgan Brainard Bulkeley papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

You can see on the map above that no highways (as shown in red) previously traveled through the city.  It is left to our imaginations what the city would be like today, if construction had differed.

Imagination certainly comes into play when we look at the proposed New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard.

NY-Boston Auto Blvd

New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard, n.d., Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Certainly the route would be convenient, and portions of the road parallel highways that have been built. It is amusing, though, to read the advantage it was thought this road would provide. Relief from highway repairs! No dust! Fast time, with safety! Imagine if these were true today…

Boulevard advantages

New York and Boston Automobile Boulevard advantages, Morgan Bulkeley Brainard papers, 1802-1942, Ms 66426d. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

This collection is open for research. Come visit! We are conveniently located off of several highways…